On the job six months, Oak Bluffs School principal resigns

John Rizzo, the man selected to lead the Oak Bluffs School, tended his resignation Tuesday in order to join his wife in Hawaii.

Oak Bluffs School principal John Rizzo in his office on Wednesday morning, his last day. — Photo by Sam Moore

Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea confirmed Tuesday that Oak Bluffs School Principal John Rizzo resigned on Tuesday and will leave the Island Wednesday.

Megan Farrell, administrator for curriculum and instructional support, will serve as interim principal, Mr. D’Andrea said.

Following a search process that winnowed a pool of 30 applicants down to two finalists, in June Mr. D’Andrea selected Mr. Rizzo to fill the job left vacant when Richie Smith was named assistant superintendent. Mr. Rizzo’s contract called for him to earn an annual salary of $120,000.

At the time, Mr. Rizzo was principal of Milton Bradley School in Springfield. When he accepted the Vineyard job, Mr. Rizzo’s wife, Anne Marie, was living in Hawaii. Mr. Rizzo said his wife, a chief executive fundraiser, would work in Oahu until she made the move to the Vineyard. That move never came.

On Wednesday morning, standing in his office for the last time, Mr. Rizzo told The Times that he moved to the Vineyard with the intention that he and his wife would retire here. Plans changed, he said, when his wife was offered, what he described as a “great career opportunity.”

Mr. Rizzo said that he began to consider leaving a month ago. In conversations with Mr. D’Andrea, both decided it would best for him and his family if he departed at the end of the calendar year.

No ill will

Mr. D’Andrea said that “things in Hawaii have worked out very well for his wife, and he understandably wants to be with his wife.”

The departure, while sudden, was apparently not unexpected. “We’ve been talking about it for a couple of weeks now, that this was a possibility,” Mr. D’Andrea told The Times late Tuesday after news of Mr. Rizzo’s departure began to circulate.

Mr. D’Andrea said students would be told the news in their classrooms on Wednesday. “I have asked Dr. Rizzo and Dr. Farrell to address the situation with the students tomorrow to clarify any questions that they have so that they know when they come back on Jan. 4 that Megan will be the interim principal,” Mr. D’Andrea said.

In a letter dated Dec. 22 to parents notifying them of Mr. Rizzo’s resignation, Mr. D’Andrea said that Mr. Rizzo departs the Island with no ill will from school administrators.

“I understand his need to return, and feel only fondness towards Dr. Rizzo. We appreciate all of Dr. Rizzo’s many contributions to our Oak Bluffs School and wish him the very best,” he said.

He added that Ms. Farrell is the “best candidate to provide a seamless transition with staff and students.”

Ms. Farrell has worked as a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, and an educational administrator. She is a certified principal in Massachusetts.

“Most importantly, she knows the community and the staff very well,” Mr. D’Andrea said in a phone conversation with The Times. “I have a tremendous amount of confidence her ability to do the job.”

Kris O’Brien, a member of the Oak Bluffs school committee, said she is fully confident in the plan announced this week.

“I am thankful Superintendent d’Andrea has put together a solid plan as outlined in his letter announcing Dr. Rizzo’s resignation,” she told The Times. “This plan assures the Oak Bluffs School, its students, staff and community a smooth transition with Dr. Megan Farrell as interim principal. I am happy to see Dr. Farrell in this role. I wish Dr.Rizzo farewell and thank him for his time at the Oak Bluffs School.”

“With much aloha”

In a letter dated Dec. 23 and addressed to the “Oak Bluffs school and family,” Mr. Rizzo announced his retirement and lauded his replacement.

“The path to this decision was based upon what is in the best interest of my family, and thus I am taking my early retirement from the Massachusetts Public Schools to join my wife, Annie,” he wrote. Mr. Rizzo has worked in education for nearly 34 years, 29 of which he was an administrator.

“I depart OB with so many wonderful memories and know its future will continue to remain bright. I have enjoyed serving this exemplary faculty, staff, central office leadership, and community. I will always hold a special place in my heart for the wonderful OB students who are the soul and the heartbeat of the school. What an honor and a privilege it was to get to know them and love them.”

Mr. Rizzo said he was “elated for the entire community” that Ms. Farrell will be stepping in to fill his vacancy.

“She has a caring heart, keen analytical skills, and the ability to problem solve. The OB community is in great hands with this strong, caring, and really bright leader who loves and adores our kids!” he said.

He signed his letter, “with much aloha always.”

Child first

The search for a new principal for Oak Bluffs School began in mid-April and lasted about two months. In June, Mr. D’Andrea told The Times that hiring an off-Island educator to take over Oak Bluffs School was a concern during the search. “People are concerned that when you hire someone off-Island for any position, that they are aware of the challenges of moving out to the Island,” he told The Times. “That has been a part of the conversation in the search committee.”

Mr. D’Andrea said that candidates were well aware that moving “out here is challenging.”

At Milton Bradley School in Springfield, Mr. Rizzo led a 600-student elementary school with 70 staff members, a job he had held for one year.

“Dr. Rizzo’s child-first philosophy made him the favorite for all the stakeholders who participated,” Mr. D’Andrea said in an email to parents and staff following his decision to hire Mr. Rizzo last June.

In a Letter to the Editor published August 5, Mr. Rizzo said, “I am both humbled and honored to write to the residents of Oak Bluffs and the Island for the first time as the new principal of the Oak Bluffs School.”

Mr. Rizzo took the opportunity to expound on his educational philosophy. “For the past 28 years, in my various leadership roles, be it principal or superintendent serving children and adults in grades PK-12 in public, private, and parochial schools, my philosophy has always been summed up as ‘students first.’ I believe educators must always put the best interest of students first in our decision making.”

Mr. Rizzo said he planned to visit classrooms every day as well as attend various school functions in order to get to know the “kids, parents, and residents, as well as the dedicated faculty and staff I serve and lead.”

he added, “By the winter of 2016, I hope to conclude my structured interviews with the entire school faculty and staff … These interviews will help me set the tone and establish a vision for the future by providing me with the opportunity to hear what people feel and think about our school.”

Second departure

Mr. Rizzo’s decision to leave Martha’s Vineyard marks the second unexpected loss of a principal this school year.

In July, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Principal Gil Traverso resigned to take a job in the New Haven, Conn., school district.

The departure of Mr. Traverso one year into a three-year contract caught school officials by surprise.

Retired Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School principal Margaret “Peg” Regan, who retired in 2008, stepped in for the 2015–16 school year. The search process for a new principal is now underway.